Sporadic fighting broke out in parts of Baghdad on Thursday morning, as U.S. troops tried to consolidate their hold on the Iraqi capital. Coalition forces also continued to hunt for Iraqi President Saddam Hussein.
Iraqi civilians cheer the arrival of U.S. Marines in downtown Bagdad
One day after crowds of celebrating Iraqis greeted U.S.-led forces in the heart of Baghdad, the renewed fighting showed the city was far from being completely secured.
A correspondent from the Reuters news agency said U.S. warplanes attacked positions on the western bank of the Tigris river in Baghdad, where non-Iraqi Arabs appeared to be in control of the area. According to the report, the fighters were in control of checkpoints in the Mansur neighborhood and other western districts.
"There are many dangerous areas of Baghdad for our armed forces that remain. There are many other cities in Iraq that are dangerous," White House spokesman Ari Fleischer said.
One U.S. Marine reportedly died in a battle near a mosque in northwestern Baghdad. Fierce fighting with the suspected remnants of the elite Iraqi Republican Guard erupted at one of Saddam Hussein’s presidential palaces. The Marines then searched a nearby mosque on the belief Hussein himself might be hiding inside.
Hussein's fate uncertain
There has been no word on the fate of the Iraqi dictator or his sons since they were targeted by U.S. planes that bombed a western residential area of the city on Monday. The Washington Post on Thursday quoted CIA sources that nearly all of the regime’s leadership had disappeared following the fall of Baghdad.
"There was no sign of any leaders, anywhere," a senior U.S. administration official said, according to the Post.
The paper said U.S. officials suspected that some Iraqi leaders had gone to Hussein's hometown of Tikrit for a final showdown and that others had fled to Syria. While Baghdad was spared air strikes Wednesday night, Tikrit, roughly 175 kilometers north of the capital, was targeted repeatedly by coalition aircraft.
On the 22nd day of the military campaign, coalition forces also began to gain ground in the north of the country. The BBC reported the northern city of Kirkuk had fallen after Kurdish soldiers backed by U.S. troops secured the strategically important oil town. Reuters said American tanks moved into the main Kurdish town of Arbil, near Iraqi’s third major city Mosul.
Coalition takes center of Baghdad
On Wednesday, coalition tanks drove unhindered into the heart of Baghdad as crowds of Iraqis jubilantly celebrated the collapse of Hussein’s 24-year-long rule.
Iraqi civilians dance on the downed statue of Iraqi President Saddam Hussein.
An American armored vehicle helped a cheering crowd dismantle a massive statue of Saddam Hussein in the central al-Fardus square on the eastern bank of the Tigris river. Dozens of screaming people leapt on the fallen 20-foot (six-meter) high metal statue, shouting "death to Saddam!".
Ecstatic Iraqis greeted marines arriving in the Shia stronghold of Saddam City, showering flowers on them and waving to them as they chanted, "No more Saddam Hussein, we love you, we love you." Similar rejoicing crowds took to the streets in the Kurdish-held northern city of Arbil. Saddam led Iraq through three wars and decades of suffering after taking power in 1979.
Saddam’s troops offered little resistance on Wednesday as U.S. forces pushed through the five-million-strong city and drove unhindered into public squares. Coalition forces have been advancing from three directions, extending the central area they have held since Tuesday morning. There was no sign of Iraqi troops, police or officials in the streets of Baghdad on Wednesday.
An atmosphere of chaos and disorder prevailed in several areas as looters gutted official buildings, hauling off furniture, tires, chairs, air conditioners and whatever else they could lay their hands on. Television pictures showed Iraqis tearing up posters of Saddam Hussein and burning his effigies. The finance ministry was ablaze late in the day, though it was unclear how the fire had started.
Schröder and Chriac welcome U.S. advances
The dramatic scenes in Baghdad led even some of the war's harshest critics to praise what appeared to be the end of one of the world's most brutal regimes.
"Every day that the war is over is a better day. Therefore we greatly welcome these signs," said German Chancellor Gerhard Schröder.
French President Jacques Chirac, who along with Schröder and Russia President Vladimir Putin formed the core opposition to U.S. military action against Iraq, on Thursday also expressed satisfaction over coalition gains in Baghdad.
"France, like all democracies, welcomes the fall of the dictator Saddam Hussein and hopes there will be a rapid and effective end to the fighting," said Chirac in a statement.
Compiled by DW-WORLD staff with information from wire services.
Note: Information on troop movements, victims and damage estimates are based on information from parties involved in the war and cannot be independently verified.